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Digital Paperboy

How much would you pay to read your favorite newspaper online?  If the answer is nothing, because that’s what you’re paying now, you’re not alone.  But 170 dailies are agonizing over how to make you pay for their craft in a semi-public way that we are just beginning to learn about.  The company that wants to make this happen is Journalism Online, and they’re serious.

The best information we have yet comes from the Neiman Journalism Lab, and the 12 page document is available.  The model is still under development, so we can’t say exactly what will happen and when.

The highlights of the plan that is being floated so far are that they are assuming that a paper roughly the size of the StarTribune would be able to charge a $75 per year subscription fee for the online version.  Journalism Online is basing its own models on taking a 20% cut of that, after credit card fees.  This compares to a posted rate of $2 per week ($104 per year) for an exact copy of the print edition e-mailed directly to you or $170 per year for the print edition on your porch.

Whether or not you think this is a good buy or not, consider that you can buy individual articles for a micropayment from paypal or the like for $0.25, which they assume you’ll do about 6 times a month.  That’s against $0.50 for the whole paper on the newsrack or, if you’re like me, $0.00 when you find one left at the coffee shop.

We don’t know if the Strib is one of the papers considering this, but I would be surprised if the paper could possibly emerge from bankruptcy without at least telling the court that they are looking at any and all options.

Currently, I’ve estimated that the StarTribune generates about 1.5M unique visits per month, which has to be weighed against their 12M printed copies in a month.  My best guess is that a bit under 50k people in total hit their site at least once per month, but it’s hard to explain how I got it.  What’s clear is that even for free, the online version isn’t anywhere near as popular as the print version. MediaNews, owner of the Pioneer Press, is definitely considering the proposal from Journalism Online.

So what can we assume will happen if this proposal goes through, more or less as proposed?  I gave up predicting what will happen with any given paper a long time ago, so I have no idea. If we do have to pay for professional journalism, I believe that the main beneficiary will be citizen journalists.  People are used to having free news online, so we can expect that they will continue to seek out free news sites.  I also think it’ll be a boon for MPR and MinnPost, which might be interesting.  The value of an old “brand name” paper will be tested, for sure.

There’s little else to add to the details listed at Neiman, so I’ll leave it at this.  This is only a proposal at this time, but I have to say that I don’t see this working out over the long run.

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10 thoughts on “Digital Paperboy

  1. I’m a subscriber to the Strib, and they called me about doing this. So yes, they’re doing it. But, since I’m a subscriber they would only charge me I think $14.95.

    One of the selling points was that it’s exactly the same as the physical newspaper, including the ads!

  2. The Strib or others would have to produce some unique content. Mostly what I see online is regurgitated AP stories I can get anywhere and a lot of annoying pop-up/slide-out advertisements. The content that is unique (mostly from their bloggers–like RoadGuy)–is not compelling enough to warrant any payment.

  3. What the Strib has now is an option to have the assembled paper sent to you every day by e-mail for $2 a week – I guess there’s a discount if you subscribe to the paper copy. I couldn’t find any stats on how many people take them up on this.

    The proposal that’s floating around is to lock down the whole free site that we know, outside of a few teasers possibly.

    Unique content, which is to say local news or insightful commentary, is always the trick. They won’t just be filling the “news hole” any longer, so the mindset has to be totally different. I dunno just what’s planned, however, but we have one solid proposal now on the table for how they’ll bill – what that means to the paper’s content is up in the air.

  4. I would absolutely pay for a complete online version of the Strib or PP. I don’t subscribe to either now because of erratic delivery & too small font for my old eyes.

  5. They could have a lot more local/unique content if they did something like microblogging off of police reports, etc. Reporters could file very small stories attached to a neighborhood all day rather than do 2-3 big articles that qualify as big news. That’s the model they have to go to online to make a difference.

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